The second day of qualifying for the season-ending In-N-Out Burger NHRA Finals featured enough drama and excitement to last a full season, but in the end, defending Pomona champ Austin Prock, championship contender Robert Hight, Greg Anderson, and Gaige Herrera head into eliminations as the top seeds in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Prock, who won the season finale here last year with a career-best 3.641, showed some more of that magic in the Chris Cunningham- and Joe Barlam-tuned Montana Brand dragster with a career-best 3.636 in the final qualifying session to take the No. 1 spot, his second of the season and the third of his career. Prock also was runner-up at the Winternationals in Pomona in 2021 and 2022 and he'll be looking for fourth straight final-round appearance here.
"I love it anytime I come here," said Prock. "As a kid growing up, ditching school and flying out here to come watch my dad [Jimmy Prock] race for championships and it was always a treat to me. I still feel the same way about this place. It's got a special place in my heart. And just seems like we have a little mojo going here.
"Our focus every weekend is to get the Wally, and I feel like we finally have a race car that can do it. We've been picking at it slowly throughout the year, and the last two, three races things really come around. The first run today, that was the first time we smoked tires in eight runs. We blew the tires off at the hit and then go up there and run .809 to 60 feet the next run. I mean, that's cooking right there. It was smooth as glass. I didn't even realize it was going that quick, and when I pulled the laundry the chute hit so hard it yarded my head forward and I looked up and saw [3.663 on the scoreboard] and I was about ready to jump out of the car."
Points leader Steve Torrence got knocked down to No. 2 but his Friday 3.641 helped him score needed bonus points. Second-place Kalitta picked up 10 of a possible 16 session-bonus points in qualifying but still will enter the final day of the season needing to go a round further than Torrence for the championship. Torrence’s lead over Kalitta is 12 points.
After two aborted passes Friday, Salinas kept his name in the championship conversation when he fired back with a 3.698 in Q3, a run that was the quickest of the session, then improved again in the final session with a 3.663 that places him third on the ladder but still 76 points behind Torrence.
Antron Brown is fourth with a 3.663, just ahead of Kalitta’s 3.666 and the 3.674 on the other title contender, Leah Pruett, who will enter raceday 39 points, or two rounds, behind Torrence.
Justin Ashley qualified seventh with a 3.682 to keep himself mathematically in contention but he’ll need early exits by the frontrunners. Billy Torrence is the final driver in the quick half of the field with a 3.682. Ten drivers qualified in the 3.6-second range with Brittany Force (3.682) and Shawn Langdon (3.693) round out that list.
Ron August Jr. sits on the bump spot with a career-best pass of 3.858 and will take on Prock in Sunday’s first round.
After a disappointing opening day of qualifying, Hight and his Jimmy Prock-led AAA of Southern California team rebounded with the best run of both of Saturday’s sessions and took the No. 1 spot away from points leader Matt Hagan with a 3.844. Hight sliced only slightly into Hagan’s points lead but, more importantly, he didn’t go a round further down and will just need to go one round further than Hagan and he also passed Bob Tasca III, meaning that he just needs to match him if Hagan goes out early.
Hight is 12 points behind Hagan with Tasca 17 back. Hagan and Hight are on the same side of the ladder and could meet in the semifinals and neither could face Tasca until a potential winner-take-all final round
"I didn't think anything could really happen between Matt and I, it was too big a distance --- so it was Tasca we needed to get around so if we lose the same round, you want to be ahead of him, so this was big for us today. I was a little nervous yesterday, I screwed up the first run and we had to make a safe run last night and Hagan got nine or 10 points on us
“I'm so really proud of the whole Auto Club team for getting eight points today, basically low of both sessions. It's exactly what we needed to do and we got a little momentum and we're running good, but we'vegot to race smart tomorrow. I'm probably not going to sleep much tonight.”
Hight joined Top Fuel teammate Austin Prock atop the pack and their boss, John Force, qualified No. 2 behind Hight with a 3.862 with defending event champ Cruz Pedregon third at 3.865, with all of those runs coming under the lights at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip.
Hagan, who had promised to press for more bonus points today, had an off Saturday with just a pair of 3.9-second runs for the Dodge Power Brokers Charger and relied on his Friday 3.869 to hold onto No. 5.
Paul Lee, enjoying one of his best qualifying outings, is fifth at 3.869, followed by a disappointed Tasca (3.880), Ron Capps (3.882), and Chad Green (3.893) rounding out the quick eight.
Fourteen drivers qualified in the threes – one shy of the record – and Jeff “the Surfer” Diehl ended up on the bump spot of one of the quickest fields in Funny Car history at 4.026. He’ll face Hight in round one.
Alexis DeJoria, who had just four career DNQs in 2i14 starts, didn’t make the show after a troubled quartet of passes and will join her crew chief, Del Worsham, and another local favorite, Jason Rupert, on the sidelines Sunday.
Anderson’s oh-so-slim hopes of passing leader Erica Enders for the Pro Stock championship remain intact but he will need some help in order to win a sixth championship. Anderson bettered his 6.495-second run from Friday with a 6.492 and he is the top qualifier for the third time this season and the 124th time in his Hall of Fame career.
In order to win the title, Anderson must win the race on Sunday and hope that Enders loses in round one. Anderson will face No. 16 qualifier Mason McGaha while Enders, the No. 3 qualifier is paired against her Elite teammate, Fernando Cuadra Jr.
“We’ve done everything that we can do through qualifying. Now, we have a a chance see what happens tomorrow. I’ll never quit. I’ll never give up. This HendrickCars.com Chevy has made four bad-to-the-bone runs this weekend. Now, we just need to try and win this race and hope that we have some good luck.”
"Right now, I'm super pumped. I love racing here in Pomona. Today was perfect. You saw a lot of great runs and I'm extra proud of the way the car ran. I made four great runs. To be honest, I wasn't expecting to improve in the last session but I saw a few cars ahead of us run pretty well. I though maybe the put down a little extra glue. When I let the clutch out it hit like a ton of bricks."
After Anderson, Kyle Koretsky put his Lucas Oil/Nitro Fish Camaro into the 6.4s with a 6.497, while Enders’ 6.500 from Friday held for the No. 3 spot.
The top half of the field is separated by just .023-second with Troy Coughlin Jr., Aaron Stanfield, Jeg Coughlin Jr., Matt Hartford, and Bo Butner each having lane choice for their round one match-ups.
Herrera will face very little pressure on Sunday as he’s already wrapped up the Pro Stock Motorcycle title. The second-year sensation needed only to qualify for the In-N-Out Burger finals in order to win the title and he was able to do that with a 6.661 during the final session that ties for the fourth quickest run in the history of the class. Herrera, who also ran 203.80, has now qualified No. 1 in 14 of 15 events this season.
“This shows that if you have a dream you have to chase it,” said Herrera. “I have an awesome group of people who pushed me to chase this dream. I can’t thank Andrew [Hines], Ed [Krawiec], Terry [Vance] and Byron [Hines for believing in me. I never thought I’d be here talking about a championship. It’s incredible.
“It’s nice to have the championship out of the way, but there is still a race to win and I want to win it,” said Herrera. "On the first three runs, we tried a few things and then we changed engines. That last run was so smooth. I didn't know I had a 1.02 sixty-foot time, but I knew it was a good pass. I had to make very few corrections. I didn't expect a 6.66 but this track is very fast."
Herrera leads the pack, which was not unexpected, and he holds a sizable lead over second-ranked Hector Arana Jr., who rode his GETTRX Buell to a 6.729 while Eddie Krawiec improved in Q4 to take the No. 3 spot at 6.734. The top four riders, including No. 4 Kelly Clontz ran over 200 mph.
Clontz will likely not participate in Sunday’s final eliminations after crashing her Steamfitters UA 602 Suzuki during Saturday’s first session. She was not seriously injured in the accident.
Steve Johnson, Marc Ingwersen, Jianna Evaristo, and LE Tonglet round out the top half of the Pro Stock Motorcycle field.